HRE soundbite: HR’s leadership during turmoil ‘impressive’

Between the coronavirus pandemic and racial injustice protests taking place across the nation, 2020 isn’t just shaping up to be one of the biggest years in U.S. history–it’s also shaping up to be a pivotal year for the role of HR leaders.

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Jill Smart

“There are a lot of changes that happened really fast for HR executives,” notes Jill Smart, president of the National Academy of Human Resources. And for the most part, she says, HR executives have reacted swiftly and impressively, focusing on their employees’ wellbeing and making sure employees are well taken care of.

“The way that HR leaders have been so responsive and agile and not necessarily looking at things from a process or program has been impressive,” Smart says.

Related: COVID-19 strategy 101: How to improve mental health

From increasing mental and emotional efforts to remaining flexible and taking a hard look at racism in the workplace, a handful of human resource managers have quickly taken the lead, spurring other corporate leaders to join them.

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“What’s been so great about [how HR is reacting to these changes] is that HR leaders are bringing their leadership along the journey with them,” Smart says. “HR leaders genuinely want to do the right thing for their employees and their health. It wasn’t so much, ‘Well, if we don’t have our people, we won’t make money.’ It really felt genuine, and I think HR felt a really key role in influencing that.”


Read more of our interview with Smart later this month on

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Kathryn Mayer
Kathryn Mayer is HRE’s former benefits editor and chair of the Health & Benefits Leadership Conference. She has covered benefits for the better part of a decade, and her stories have won multiple awards, including a Jesse H. Neal Award and honors from the American Society of Business Publication Editors and the National Federation of Press Women. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Denver.